There are many different parts that make up a successful hockey team — goal-scorers, facilitators, enforcers.
Nolan LaPorte hopes to be a combination of the bunch.
"I’d like to think I'm the all-around guy that will do anything to help the team win, whether it’s a blocked shot, a hit, a fight or a goal," he said. "I’d like to be that kind of guy."
Nearly halfway through the season, LaPorte is showing his versatility on the ice for the Quad-City Mallards. He leads the team with 16 assists, is seventh with six goals and fourth with 36 penalty minutes.
It's not a bad season for the rookie, but early on, the only mark he was making was with his fists.
Eight games into the season, LaPorte had no goals and just one assist, with a fight on opening night. In 22 games since, he's scored six goals and added 15 assists, averaging just under a point per game, and is now ninth among rookies with 22 points. He's also been in three more fights, but is showing he's more than just a brawler.
"It took me probably 10 games to figure it out," LaPorte said. "I was fighting a lot in the beginning, a lot of hits and I laid off that, tried seeing the ice more, slowing the game down and I think that really helped me get some points and feel the league out better."
LaPorte was met with some high expectations when he joined the Mallards two days before the start of training camp. He played in juniors with current Mallards teammate Grant Arnold on the Green Bay Gamblers, where the duo won a Clark Cup in 2012. From there, the 24-year-old went to Western Michigan University, helping the Broncos to a third-place finish in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference as a sophomore.
But it's what he did just prior to joining the Mallards that perhaps raised the most eyebrows, as he skated in the Washington Capitals' NHL camp. That experience gave LaPorte a good feel for how he matches up against some of the game's best.
"It was a great experience up there but at the same time it kind of put me in my place and let me know where I stood among the rest of the players everywhere," he said. "I feel like I can hang in there with a lot of them but you can definitely pick out different parts of the game that need improvement and you can tell first-hand what you need to improve on.
Get breaking news sent instantly to your inbox
"The ability for those guys to make decisions is a lot quicker up there. It’s even different here from college. College was a lot faster than this league, a lot faster, a lot more out of control. I feel this league is much more in control, more skillful."
So LaPorte has been working on improving his skill, and it's been paying off on the ice. He was on an eight-game point scoring streak — matching Kevin Gibson for the team high this season — until last week, and is becoming a valuable piece for the Mallards, who went after him on the recommendation of Iowa Wild coach Derek Lalonde, who coached LaPorte in Green Bay.
"He started off slow, scrapped a couple of times and he doesn’t back down from anybody," Mallards head coach Terry Ruskowski said. "He makes good contributions and he plays really strong on the right side and he’s getting better. He’s learning the game a little bit more, he’s understanding it and he’s going to get better as the season goes on, I feel."
LaPorte and the Mallards have to get back on their game, having lost their last two with Cincinnati coming to the iWireless Center tonight. The team has scored just two goals in their last two losses, but, if the Mallards can follow the lead of their rookie, they might be able to turn it around.
"When you’re not scoring, it’s tough to stay positive," LaPorte said. "If you’re not getting the pucks, you’re not getting the bounces, you’re not putting up the points, they’ll come, keep your head up. Once you start scoring they’ll come in bunches."